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Comment: Is mass inebriation any more than a fact of modern life?
It feels like it’s turning into an annual fixture in Watford. Every year new crime stats are released that lift the town centre into a top five list of the most violent places in Britain.
This invariably provokes a horrified reaction from the town’s political class and police, who move to reassure residents the stats are skewed and the ignominious accolade unwarranted.
Each occasion is just another skirmish in the incessant battle over the public perception of the town centre.
When I first came to work at the Watford Observer, the refrain I heard from senior police officers in the town was it had garnered its unfair reputation as a night time plague pit of iniquity due to fly-on-the-wall documentaries where camera crews followed officers around dealing with weekend binge-drinkers.
However, in late 2011 a letter from a police sergeant to Watford Borough Council complaining the deteriorating situation in the town centre was placing officers in danger, dramatically reopened the political debate.
Since then the town centre seems to have dominated the police agenda.
After taking up his office in Shady Lane last January, former chief inspector Nick Caveney instigated a hard-line campaign to bring more order to The Parade.
Among the initiatives he introduced were random drug-testing in venues and the Scan Net system which meant pub and club-goers must have their identities recorded.
Last autumn, Mr Caveney also set hares running when he started talking about applying for a 1am booze ban in the town.
He said he was eyeing new power that came in last year which would allow councils to impose orders restricting the sale of alcohol after a designated time.
The news did not go down well with the town’s pubs and clubs, many of whom were already struggling after half a decade of lean economic conditions.
This week, Caveney’s successor as chief inspector, Dave Wheatley, declared these initiatives were working and rowed back from talk of applying for such an order.
He said violent crime was falling in the town centre, but added the order was an instrument the police could always turn to in the future should they feel the need. So for now, things in the town centre appear to be calming.
Yet the constant stats and spin must be a wearisome experience for people in Watford, as anyone who has been for a night out in the town centre knows what it is like.
As a reporter, I have acquired some empirical knowledge of Watford’s nightlife, purely motivated by a dedication to journalistic enquiry I should hasten to add.
From my experiences Watford at night is not the sack of Rome, but neither is it an idyll of courtesy and calm.
One thing most visitors will notice is that there is a lot of people drinking alcohol – many to excess.
This mass inebriation is what the political class euphemistically term the “night time economy”. The boozing brings money into the town and supports jobs.
But it also brings its problems. And as long as hundreds of people are getting hammered in a relatively small space, I suspect there will always be disorder and violence in Watford town centre.
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